The Remarkable Raymond Federman

FedermanRaymond Federman is one of those authors whose personal story is equally as fascinating as anything most writers come up with. It’s so interesting that Federman uses it as the basic of most of his own writing, with one caveat: Federman insists that he cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality. So, this Federman who is the hero of all the novels … is he the real Federman, an embellished Federman, based on Federman, Federman-like, what Federman wishes Federman was, just a horny French Jew who tells a lot of stories?

The reality is that Raymond Federman grew up in Paris as a very recognizable Jew (he calls attention to his nose constantly) until the Nazis marched into Paris and he was initially hidden and eventually smuggled to the relative safety of Vichy France. His family—mother, father, and two sisters—stayed behind and went to their deaths in the Nazi camps. Raymond, of course, did not know the fate of his family and expected to be reunited with them in Paris after the end of the conflict.

Federman’s novel, Return To Manure, tells the story of his three years working on a farm in the south of France.

But Federman, who uses the term surfiction to describe what we usually refer to as experimental fiction, never met a narrative he couldn’t bend and twist and break into layer upon layer of that amalgam of imagination and reality associated with his best work.

Return To Manure is one of his more approachable works. The story is simple: Federman and his wife are visiting the area of France where the author worked on the farm during the war. But Federman, who famously said that plots were for dead people, creates a many layered narrative that spans his early life in France, covers the years on the farm, relates the events driving to the farm after so many years, refers to notes and requests for the novel he is going to write as the result of this trip, and maintains a colloquy with an unidentified person who asks questions from outside of the narrative. Of course, the reader is reading the novel that Federman says he is going to write.

Federman’s narrative is actually more complex, but at the same time, seemingly simple. What brings it all into question is the often stated suggestion that Federman is making it all up as he goes. Read carefully: is the author just telling imaginative stories? Is that list at the end of the book more than just an administrative tool?

FedermanII can’t get enough of Raymond Federman. Unfortunately he died not too long ago so his bibliography is fixed for all time. One of my college professors told me to do my thesis on a writer who was dead: that way you couldn’t have your observations and theories destroyed by the author’s next book. If I were to go back to graduate school now, I think I would strongly consider Raymond Federman for my academic concentration (although Theodore Roethke is still a great choice).

Here’s what Wikipedia gives us for Federman’s bibliography:

Novels or Novelistic Memoirs

  • Double or Nothing Swallow Press. Re-issued by Ohio University Press, 1976. New revised edition, following the page design of the German edition Alles oder Nichts, (transl. by Peter Torberg), Greno Verlag, 1985, by Fiction Collective Two, 1991.
  • Amer Eldorado Written in French, Editions Stock, Paris, 1974. New Editions revised and expanded, Weidler Buchverlag, 2001.
  • Take It Or Leave It The Fiction Collective, 1976. New revised edition, Fiction Collective Two, 1997.
  • The Voice in the Closet / La Voix Dans le Cabinet de Débarras (Bilingual novel), Coda Press, 1979. Re-issued Station Hill Press, 1985. New edition, Starchrone Books, 2001. New expanded edition Impressions Nouvelles, 2001. Trilingual edition (English, French, German, (transl. by Peter Torberg)) Kellner Verlag, 1989.
  • The Twofold Vibration Indiana University Press & Harvester Press Ltd., 1982.
  • Smiles on Washington Square Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1985.
  • To Whom It May Concern Fiction Collective Two, 1990.
  • La Fourrure de ma Tante Rachel (written in French) Éditions Circé, 1997.
  • Loose Shoes Weidler Verlag, 2001.
  • Aunt Rachel’s Fur Fiction Collective Two, 2001.
  • Mon corps en neuf parties Editions Al Dante, 2003.
  • A qui de droit (French) Al Dante, 2003. New edition, 2006.
  • Retour au fumier Editions Al Dante, 2005.
  • My Body in Nine Parts Starcherone Books, 2005.
  • Return To Manure Fiction Collective Two, 2006.
  • Chut (French) Léo Scheer, 2008.
  • The Carcasses (A Fable) BlazeVOX Books, 2009.
  • SHHH: The Story of a Childhood Introduction and Edited by Davis Schneiderman. Starcherone. 2010.

Poetry

  • Among the Beasts / Parmi Les Monsters (Bilingual poems) Milas-Martin Editions, 1967.
  • Me Too Westcoast Poetry Press, 1975.
  • Duel-L (Poems in English/French/German). The Stop-over Press, 1991.
  • Now Then / Nun denn (Bilingual Poems in English & German (transl. by Peter Torberg)) Edition Isele, 1992.
  • 99 hand written poems = 99 poèmes faits à la Main Weidler Buchverlag, 2001.
  • Here and Elsewhere: Poetic Cul de Sac Six Gallery Press, 2003.
  • Surcomixxxx (English and German with comic strips illustrations). Ed. Dirk Görtler. Klauss Isele, 2003.
  • Ici et ailleurs / Here & elsewhere Le Mot et le reste, 2004.
  • L’extatique de Jule & Juliette Le Mot et le reste, 2006.
  • Chair Jaune (English & French) Le Bleu du Ciel, 2007.

Critical Work

  • Journey into Chaos: Samuel Beckett’s Early Fiction University California Press, 1965. Reprinted by Books on Demand, 1998.
  • Samuel Beckett, His Works and His Critics: An Essay in Bibliography (with John Fletcher). University California Press, 1970.
  • Surfiction: Fiction Now & Tomorrow Editor, Swallow Press, 1975. Revised & expanded edition, Ohio University Press, 1981.
  • Samuel Beckett (Co-Editor with Tom Bishop). Editions de L’Herne, 1976. New edition, Hachette, 1985.
  • Samuel Beckett the Critical Heritage (Co-Editor with Lawrence Graver). Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978.
  • Critifiction: Postmodern Essays State University of New York Press, 1993.

Selected Other Works

  • The Rigmarole of Contrariety (Limited edition chapbook) The Bolt Court Press, 1982.
  • Eine Version meines Lebens (Autobiography with photos, in German, transl. by Peter Torberg) Maro Verlag, 1993.
  • The Supreme Indecision of the Writer: The 1994 Lectures in Turkey (Essays) The Boltcourt Press, 1995.
  • The Line, 1996.
  • The Precipice and Other Catastrophes / der abgrund und andere katastrophen (Collected Plays, bilingual edition, English/German). Ed. Thomas Hartl. Poetry Salzburg, 1999.
  • The Twilight of the Bums (with George Chambers), 2002.
  • More Loose Shoes and Smelly Socks Six Gallery Press, 2005.
  • Coup de Pompes (Fragments d’écriture). Le Mot & Le Reste, 2007.
  • The Sam Book (Memoir), Two Ravens, 2008.

JEF FedermanAn excellent introduction to Raymond Federman is the issue of the Journal of Experimental Fiction titled, The Laugh that Laughs at the Laugh: Writing from and about the Pen Man, Raymond Federman: Journal of Experimental Fiction 23. It’s from 2002 but you can still get a copy for about $26 and it’s well worth it. Here’s what Amazon has to say about the issue:

Not only is this volume in the Journal of Experimental Fiction series a tribute to great French-American novelist and Holocaust survivor Raymond Federman by more than friends, colleagues, and admirers, including Jerome Klinkowitz, Charles Bernstein, Ronald Sukenick, Larry McCaffery, Doug Rice, Lance Olsen, and Mark Amerika, to name just a few, but it also features unpublished fiction by Raymond Federman himself, from early work during his years as a student at Columbia University to a long excerpt from his current novel-in-progress. For those unfamiliar with the work of Raymond Federman, this anthology will be a wonderful and fun introduction to this incredible and important figure in contemporary fiction. For those already familar with Raymond Federman’s work, this is an invaluable addition to the body of scholarship published on his work, and is furthermore a great testament to how deeply his work has influenced other major figures in contemporary literature.

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